OSHA Guides Nonessential Businesses' Return to Work

Author: Michael Cardman, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 25, 2020

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has issued new guidance intended to help nonessential businesses manage their employees' return to work during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The guidance aligns with the three phases President Trump put forward in his Opening Up America Again, consistent with state stay-at-home orders and reopening plans.

During Phase 1, OSHA said employers should:

  • Consider making telework available;
  • Limit the number of people in the workplace to maintain strict social-distancing practices;
  • Consider accommodations for employees at higher risk of severe illness, including elderly employees and employees with serious underlying health conditions, and potentially for employees whose household members are at higher risk; and
  • Limit nonessential business travel.

During Phase 2, OSHA said employers should:

  • Continue to make telework available where possible and to accommodate at-risk employees;
  • Resume nonessential business travel; and
  • Ease limits on the number of people in the workplace while continuing to maintain moderate to strict social-distancing practices, depending on the type of business.

During Phase 3, OSHA said employers may resume unrestricted staffing.

OSHA also urged nonessential businesses to address the following concerns in their reopening plans:

  • Hazard assessment: Determine how workers are likely to be exposed to coronavirus. For example, assess which job tasks or job categories involve occupational exposure.
  • Hygiene: Promote hand hygiene, respiratory etiquette, cleaning and disinfection. For example, provide soap, water and paper towels for workers, customers and visitors to wash their hands.
  • Social distancing: Maximize and maintain distance between all people. For example, demarcate flooring in six-feet zones in key areas where workers, customers or visitors would ordinarily congregate.
  • Identification and isolation of sick employees: Promote practices for worker self-monitoring or screening, and isolate and exclude from the workplace any employees with signs or symptoms of COVID-19. For example, ask employees to evaluate themselves for symptoms of COVID-19 before coming to work, and to stay home if they are not well.
  • Return to work after illness or exposure: Minimize risk after workers recover from COVID-19 or complete recommended self-quarantine after exposure to a person with COVID-19. For example, follow Centers for Disease Control (CDC) guidance for discontinuing self-isolation and returning to work.
  • Controls: Implement engineering and administrative controls, safe work practices, and personal protective equipment (PPE) selected as a result of the hazard assessment. For instance, put up physical barriers/shields to separate workers; enhance ventilation; stagger work shifts; limit breakroom capacity; and more.
  • Workplace flexibilities: Facilitate the use of remote work, sick leave and other options that can help minimize workers' exposure risks.
  • Training: Teach employees about how to prevent the spread of coronavirus at work. For example, train workers about wearing cloth face coverings in the workplace.
  • Anti-retaliation policies: Ensure that no adverse or retaliatory action is taken against employees who follow safety guidelines or raise workplace safety and health concerns. This includes informing employees about who they should contact with questions or concerns about workplace safety and health.

As with its recent guidance about cloth face coverings and workplace safety, OSHA stressed that its latest publication does not represent a standard or a regulation, and thus creates no new legal obligations. It is meant to advise employers about how to provide a safe workplace.